Recently I discovered that you can make a thing your whole life and then one day discover a twist on how to make it that in all the years before never occurred to you. Rice and Cheese Croquettes are the thing I speak of today. I wrote a detailed post about this all-time favorite last year, noting them as one of my mom’s great comfort foods. You mix plain white cooked rice into a cheesy sauce that causes the rice to stick together, then you form patties, bread them and pan-fry them – oh yum!
Sometimes I don’t make my rice plain though. Sometimes plain seems boring and you know how I feel about boring. Sometimes, also, I don’t plan very well. I just look at what’s in the fridge and work with it.
Having decided against plain rice as a side for an earlier meal, I had made rice pilaf instead. All that means is that I started with an onion – you seldom go wrong starting with an onion! – sautéed it in a few tablespoons of butter till it was transparent, then added chicken broth instead of water, waited till it came to a boil (just as I would if it were plain water), then added the rice and a bit of salt. When that began to boil, I turned down the temp, covered it and let it simmer 20 mins (just as I would with plain rice). Ta-da! Rice pilaf!
Remember when making white rice, use two cups of water for every cup of rice. Wild or brown rice is another thing. And also remember your rice will triple in volume: 2/3 cup uncooked rice becomes 2 cups cooked rice.
Problem was I had forgotten the tripling-in-volume part and made too much rice pilaf and there it was in the fridge staring at me as a leftover. A whole big container of it. Four leftover cups of cooked rice pilaf. That’s a fairly major miscalculation, but possibly it wasn’t a miscalculation at all but instead I had made extra thinking it would be good to have leftover. I forget. Anyway, you can heat up leftover-rice-of-any-variety in a pan same as anything, even crisp it up a bit, no argument there, delicious and easy. But croquettes were whispering in my ear as I stared into the fridge that day. Hmmm, croquettes made with rice pilaf?? That’s new.
Sure, why not? And while I was at it, why not embellish further? Why not finely dice some ham and chop some spinach and add it to the mix? Because those were whispering too.
Let me give you the ingredients of the original recipe first, then explain how I tweaked it. Remember I was starting with four cups of cooked rice, so I ended up doubling everything.
I tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup milk
2 eggs, separated
2 cups cooked rice (2/3 cup uncooked)
½ cup grated sharp (Cabot if you can!) cheddar cheese
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper (a couple shakes)
1 cup fine bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons flour (for breading)
Same as making any roux, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat, add the flour and whisk it together. It should look like this.
When you add the milk and whisk (a little more gently than u whisked the flour into the butter, or else you’ll have milk splashing all over your stove, and you don’t want that), it gets creamy.
Don’t add the milk all at once. Add about a third of it, whisk in, then another third, whisk in, then the last bit. You get no lumps that way. Look at this silky, creamy goodness!
For rice croquettes (unlike regular white sauce then made into cheese sauce) you also add egg yolks. This has to do with the binding properties of eggs – you want this sauce to make the rice grains stick together to form the patties, plus it makes the whole thing richer. So add the egg yolks. I used three instead of four because two of mine were pretty massive, coming as they were from my Mama Brahma hens, which you probably don’t have. Four regular size egg yolks work fine. Set aside the whites for later.
Stir this up and admire the gorgeous color it forms.
Add the paprika and again admire the spectacular color of the red specs splatted against the pale golden cream.
Once duly admired, stir in the paprika. I then added my diced ham and spinach, which are random-but-seemed-reasonable-to-me amounts, probably about a cupful each.
Then I added the cheese, which again is (sorry) a rather unmeasured amount (I cut a hunk off the block and grated it, looked about right). It might be a bit more than the called-for cupful (remember I doubled the recipe) but that, I have found, doesn’t matter.
This “sauce” I then transferred to a bowl, added the cold rice pilaf (if it were hot or warm it would be okay too) and mixed it up. If your pot is big enough, you could also mix it up right there in the pot. I don’t know why I didn’t.
Now the fun part, the part where your hands get directly involved, the forming-patties part. By the way, you can make these whatever size you like, even some bigger than others or odd shapes (crescent moons perhaps?) because they are your patties and no one else’s and you should have fun with rice patties whatever way you like 😊. I chose (did I really??) boring, burger-size patty shapes. I suppose, in retrospect, adding the ham and spinach was enough outside-the-box for one day. Another shape would have been just too much. We do need to know where to draw the line.
I don’t fry a lot of foods, but these I have no qualms about. You lightly egg-and-bread them and then let them crisp up in some hot olive oil. This is where you use the egg whites you set aside earlier. In my case, I had so many patties, I needed more egg, so I added another egg to the whites and whisked it in. I also add a little flour to the breadcrumbs because I’ve found this helps it stick to the thing you just egged.
So first put a patty in the egg, flip it to coat evenly, then transfer it to the crumbs and flip the same way. If you can manage this with two forks, you will keep your hands from getting so gooky. Once they are coated, put them in the hot oil. Flip when browned on the first side.
In the end I was quite pleased with this experiment. What we didn’t eat for dinner I wrapped up tightly and froze. What a good idea — boy, did they come in handy when my sister came to visit!
When you are ready for a quick meal or side dish, thaw and heat in the oven for 20 minutes or so, like your own amazing convenience food. I expect you will enjoy every bite!